Brigham Young University
Director: David Morgan
Composer: Emily Higenbotham
Agatha Christie's classic murder mystery takes place in the newly opened Monkswell Manor guesthouse. After the guests and an unexpected police officer are shut in because of a snowstorm, one of the guests is murdered. For the remainder of the play, the surviving guests attempt to uncover the identity of the murderer.
The director wanted to capitalize on the suspense that was naturally written into the script, so sound was used primarily to increase the tension by utilizing underscoring during key moments to throw off any guesses as to the identity of the murderer. Sound was also critical in engaging the audience with the play, so to make the most realistic story I could I hid speakers and contact closures throughout the set for the actors to interact with.
Sound Design Samples
Since this show is centered around a murder mystery, the opening moment needed to accomplish two things for the audience: tell them that a murder had happened and establish the expectation that we intended to scare them.
The Mechanics of Fear
All production photos: Michael Handley
Costumes: Elizabeth Banks
Hair/makeup: Heather Everett
Scenic: Nat Reed
Lighting: Daniele Brown
At the end of Act 1, Mrs. Boyle finds herself sitting alone, late in the afternoon, in a cold room, about to be murdered. The voice on the radio came from the radio itself, and the door opening softly behind her was directly above the door through which the murderer entered.
That Unsettling Feeling
With a freezing storm raging outside prohibiting anyone from leaving the guesthouse, all the guests keep warm inside by the fire. They know that a murderer is amongst them and that no one is above suspicion—including the host, who we just found out has been hiding something from his wife.
Hiding Speakers/MIDI Control
To aid in establishing the world of the play, I hid speakers in and around the set. To the left is the radio we used with a speaker hidden inside; all the sounds and music that came from it were edited to sound like a 1940s radio.
One of my favorite examples was how we hid a speaker for a telephone that rings during the show. The phone was on a desk; however, since the desk gets moved during the show, putting the speaker behind it wasn't plausible. The end result was to stick the speaker inside a wastebasket and then cover it with discarded paper.
Other examples included a hidden speaker outside the front door that used the random group feature of QLab to play a sequence of "door open, snow storm, and door close" that was different every time a character opened the door; one that was hidden behind the couch for the fireplace sounds; and one placed outside a window that was opened frequently during the play.
To stretch my abilities by trying something I hadn't before, I placed contact closures and magnetic reed switches in various pieces of the set, allowing onstage actor interaction. This enabled them to control certain elements like wind noise as windows were opened or turning the radio on and off. They all worked on the same basic principle: a circuit would close, activating a foot switch controller that sent a MIDI command to QLab, triggering the next cue.